Sep 032015
 
even the biggest businesses can die if they don't understand the world around them

“From the EMC boardroom you can see the carnage of the mini computer industry – Wang, DEC, Data General – you can see their buildings from the headquarters,” said VMWare’s CEO Pat Gelsinger during an interview this morning.

Gelsinger’s point is well made, those companies were victims of the last major computing shift which saw the minicomputer fall out of favour and be replaced with workgroup servers largely running Windows.

For VMWare, those Windows based servers were the basis of their successful virtualization product and the company was one of the winners of the shift to Personal Computers.

Shifting to the cloud

Now a shift to the cloud, something that Gelsinger sees as a bigger and more fundamental change than the one that dispatched companies like Wang, DEC and Data General to the deadpool in the 1990s, threatens to do the same to the companies that did well in the PC era.

That shift is seeing VMWare repositioning their business to their “unified hybrid cloud”, Dell shifting away from being primarily a PC manufacturer and Microsoft rethinking its entire existence. All of these companies are deeply threatened by IT’s move to the cloud and mobile services.

Watching for unicorpses

It isn’t just today’s incumbents that are threatened by shifting markets, a few of the current crop of today’s billion dollar unicorns will almost certainly become ‘unicorpses’ warns Nick Bilton in Vanity Fair.

That some of today’s seemingly untouchable tech startups may also join venerable older companies in the history books may surprise some but the risks are high, the shifts are great and the successful business strategies are not always obvious early in a technology shift.

One clear point is that size is no barrier to eventual failure, as we see with once untouchable giants winding up after technology and markets move against them it’s only the fast moving and flexible thinking that will survive.

Sep 022015
 
Pat_Gelsinger_CEO_VMWare

“It’s no longer the big beating the small, it’s the fast beating the slow,” says Eric Pearson, CIO of the InterContinental Hotels Group.

Pearson was quoted by VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger in his five imperatives for digital business keynote at the VMWorld 2015 conference being held in San Francisco this week.

The five are an interpretation of the trends in a radically changing business environment where the barriers to entry have fallen dramatically, industries are globalised and the time to market for new products has collapsed.

Put together, Gelsinger believes established businesses have to be more nimble as market and industry forces are going to punish those who are too slow to adapt.

Elephants must learn to dance

Gelsinger’s initial point is the world of business is now asymmetric – incumbents have everything to lose in the face of new businesses where upstarts have nothing to lose.

Part of that asymmetry comes from the world of shared resources, which gives startups and smaller businesses access to tools that were once only available to large organisations.

An obvious example of this are the cloud computing services that is concentrating VMWare’s minds, however another good example of how shared resources will change industries is the self driving car where Gelsinger cites vehicle utilisation will go from 4% to 71%.

Gelsinger points out using a car on a pay for use basis will change the structure of our cities which in turn changes the economics of living in suburbia and the business models built around it.

Standardising the cloud

Cloud computing is at the end of its formative, experimental phase and entering into a professional era where different types of services are going to have to work together.

“We have the private cloud which is focused on IT as we know it today, pulling out costs, slow and complex applications but also has powerful governance and does what I need it to do while meeting compliance purposes,” said Gelsinger. “On the the other side we have the public cloud which is fast and is able to scale effectively but has weak governance.”

In a perverse way, it’s Edward Snowden’s revelations that are driving many businesses to maintain their own private cloud networks due to concerns about foreign powers tapping their information flows and the sovereignty of data.

The consequence of a range of different cloud environments mean they are all going to have to get along with open standards becoming more important as businesses ‘mix and match’ their requirements.

Meeting the security challenge

As the Snowden affair shows, IT Security is difficult, complex and messy and becomes more so as workers start using their mobile devices and data is pushed around the cloud.

Gelsinger sees the online security sector as being the one of the biggest opportunities for startups and one of the fastest growing costs for business, “the only thing growing faster than the spend on security is the cost of security breaches.”

While Gelisinger’s focus is on VMWare’s security proposition, the security mindset is going to have be adopted by all business people. As the Target and Ashley Madison breaches have shown, the damage that can be done by a security lapse can be crippling and is a tangible business risk that senior managements and boards need to be across.

Proactive technology

Artificial intelligence has been through a thirty year gestation and Gelsinger told of his early days as a computer engineer working on AI projects in the late 1980s. Those early days of AI were a failure as the results as the time didn’t live up to the hype.

Gelsinger sees this as the next wave of computing as it moves from being reactive to proactive as systems become able to anticipate actions based on the data they are seeing.

While this has major ramifications for the computer industry, it also promises to change management and the role of many professions.

“This is going to change human experiences,” says Gelsinger however there will be challenges as businesses strike a balance between creepy versus convenience and invasive versus valuable.

Welcome to the age of rattling the cage

Half of the firms on today’s Tech 100 list will be gone within 10 years, was the warning in Gelsinger’s final point and he focused on the need for businesses large and small to break out in order to stay relevant.

“Welcome to the age of rattling the cage,” stated Gelsinger. “A time when taking risk is the lowest risk.”

Paul travelled to VMWorld 2015 in San Francisco as a guest of VMWare

Aug 292015
 
president-obama-makers-faire

The Obama Administration teams with Apple, HP, Boeing and others to develop a Silicon Valley based wearable tech hub with $170 million in funding reports Venture Beat.

Over $17o million will be invested by the US government and its private sector partners in hybrid flexible electronics manufacturing research that may well underpin the next generation of wearable and embeddable devices.

For the US, its success in the electronics industry is based upon its strong research sector. Making the investments today will help the nation compete as the technology landscape evolves.

Aug 272015
 
fax-machine

If you’re in the ABC Canberra area at 4.05pm, I’ll be talking about this with Adam Shirley. Listen live here.

One of the most frustrating statements in modern business is “you’ll have to send a fax.”

Facsimile machines, once the pinnacle of 1980s business communications although they were first invented in 1843, started to die once the internet became common and email became the dominant messaging system.

Once dial up modems started becoming standard on computers, receiving faxes electronically became feasible and for while businesses struggled with the notoriously unreliable software to receive facsimile messages without the hassle of paper.

Eventually however they passed away as most business found there was no need for faxes and anything requiring a signature could be electronically signed or a scan of the original document sent.

Some industries and sectors – particularly the legal world and some government agencies – still hold out the need to send an ‘original’ by fax, party under the fallacy a facsimile copy is more secure, reliable and legally more valid than an email or electronically lodged document.

During the ABC Canberra program one listener pointed out the medical industry is dependent upon the older technologies, “we couldn’t operate without them” she told the producers. In a time of connected medical equipment and electronic data interchange, the medical industry has little justification in using outdated manual methods but habits die hard in a very conservative industry.

None of the myths around the reliability of fax are true and the reality is details sent by fax are just as easily intercepted by nefarious employees or third parties as emails. In many respects a fax is less secure than electronically interchanged data.

If you do have the need to send or receive a fax though all is not lost, services like eFax will still send or receive messages and then, ironically, email them onto you.

However there is a downside with these services, as one harried PA whose organisation still receives faxes due to its dealings with the legal profession described, the vast bulk of messages they receive are junk messages mainly offering cheap deals on office supplies.

The fax machine is another example of a transition effect where a stop gap product was effective for a short period as businesses adapted to new technologies, the SMS is going through a similar process now. Neither will be the last example of this.

Aug 222015
 
420-402 D75 SE boxshot art

“No-one is making money from cloud software, in the early days everyone made money from software,” bemoaned one of the panellists at last week’s CPA Technology, Accounting and Finance Forum.

A good example of this is the US accounting software giant Intuit putting the 32 year old Quickbooks on to the market.

Intuit was built on the back of Quickbooks but today the product today makes less than 6% of the company’s revenues and under 2% of the profits. Making matters worse is the old code base is clunky, proprietary and expensive to maintain.

Apart from getting a captive – and almost certainly dwindling – client base, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to attract buyers for Quickbooks as a desktop based product in a market shifting to the cloud.

The shifting business model hurts more than Intuit; the accountants, resellers and other service providers who were making a decent income from selling or supporting the box products have seen their margins evaporate.

For users, both Intuit and the services providers moving away from the product risks leaving them and their data stranded, something every business should understand about the risks of proprietary formats.

The shift though by Intuit should be a warning to small businesses that the days of box and inhouse software are numbered and running packages on servers and desktops will soon be for large organisations or niche applications.

Almost every business is going to have to plan its move to the cloud, those who don’t are increasingly going to be left behind in a shifting market.

Aug 202015
 
google-data-center-mayescounty-employee2

One of the defining features of the next decade’s successful businesses is how they manage data. No company has a greater challenge in dealing with information than Google.

In a feature tracking Google’s evolving data centres, Techcrunch describes how the company has dealt with the challenge of being the web’s repository.

The challenge has been huge, Google’s current Jupiter network delivers a petabit each second, a hundred times more capacity than its first-generation network and in 2005.

Google boasts 10,000 of their servers are capable of reading all of the scanned data in the Library of Congress in less than a tenth of a second.

While most businesses won’t need that sort of capacity in the near future, the exponential growth Google has dealt with is the same issue facing most managers and business owners as more devices, staff and customers become connected.

For most organisations, dealing with that dramatic growth is almost impossible and this is why automated services running on the cloud will become even more a part of daily working life. Those services will be running on the technology Google is developing today.

 

 

 

Jul 292015
 
facebook-buy-button-powered-by-stripe

Payment service Stripe joins the unicorn club as credit card company Visa becomes the latest investor reports the Re/Code website.

Two years ago this site interviewed John Collison, one of the Irish twins who founded Stripe about their mission to bring the payments industry in the 21st Century.

With the Visa investment it now means two of the world’s three major credit card companies are investors in Stripe, the other being American Express, and this shows the incumbent players are acutely aware of the changes happening in the payments world.

That credit card companies are investing in the businesses that threaten to disrupt their industry indicates the incumbents’ savvy management; while there are cultural and ethical barriers in trying to undercut the existing profitable products, having a stake in the new competitors gives companies like Visa and AmEx to remain relevant in a post credit card world.

For Stripe, investment from what could have been their major competitors not only takes some of the pressure off the the business but also opens opportunities for technology sharing and access to bigger markets.

Probably the most important thing for Strip with the Amex and Visa investments is they legitimise the business and the entire payments startup sector. It’s an important vote of confidence in the technologies and market.

For the Collison twins it also helps build better businesses, as John told Decoding the New Economy two years ago, “if we just building a business to take transactions from PayPal and get them onto Stripe, that’s not that interesting. What is interesting is if we can create new types of transactions that would not have existed otherwise.”

“By providing better infrastructure for anyone to build a global business. That will change the kind of things people will build.”

Now more people will be looking at what they can build on these payment platforms.